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Intellectual breakthroughs

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Georgi Derluguian
22 December 2005

There is little worth predicting in my native part of the world, the former Soviet Union.

The politics of personalistic venality will continue to generate periodic scandals and palace intrigues against the backdrop of demobilized and redundant people. The demographic vibrancy of the Caucasus and central Asia, in the absence of more hopeful possibilities, will erupt in desperate acts of violence.

I would love nothing more than a huge surprise to send me back to the sociological drawing board. Who, including its original sponsors, could have predicted the tremendous surge of Ukraine’s “Orange” revolution? Like all revolutions, this one was betrayed and yet, like all revolutions, the really important consequences will arrive in the longer run, by changing the structural perceptions of the possible.

This is, however, not my hope for 2006. My hope for the coming year lies elsewhere. It is in social science, my professional turf. We are living, by many indicators, in a period characterized by the rapid accumulation of new knowledge and emotional energy which, as Randall Collins argues, is the driving force of creativity and innovation. Energy is building up under the crust of mainstream scholasticism and post-modernist solipsism. But in social science we can recognise the breakthroughs only long after the fact, when the initial small hole in the wall becomes the gate for a new generation.

The conditions are there. We can see the world more clearly because the walls of cold-war ideologies have crumbled. Evolving networks spur the global diffusion of ideas. The sheer boredom of academic social science serves as a condition for innovation: a great many younger scholars feel today like the East Germans at the beginning of 1989. Social science has so little of use to say today — and yet it can say so much!

This contradiction, I believe, cannot last. I want to toast the intellectual breakthroughs which we do not yet notice!

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